U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Three Things to Know: First Round
June 26, 2019 | South Bend, Ind.
By Dave Shedloski
Nary a word of discontent could be heard prior to the start of the 40th U.S. Senior Open Championship at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, the first time a university layout has hosted the most prestigious event in senior golf.
Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and opened in 2000, the Warren Course is a tree-lined course that looks and feels classic despite its relative youth. While it is one of the shorter U.S. Senior Open courses in recent memory at 6,943 yards (par 70), it will not be a pushover.
“This golf course is stunning,” said Rocco Mediate, one of the many players raving the layout. “I loved it when I saw it. It's just right in front of you. You just know what's going to happen. But it's supposed to be hard. You're supposed to be penalized for missing [fairways and greens]. And the reason the fairways are like they are is because it's easier to play from. It's real simple.”
The 156-player field features 133 professionals and 23 amateurs, making it the fifth consecutive year that 20 or more amateurs are competing. No amateur has ever won the title (William C. Campbell was the runner-up in the inaugural event in 1980), and the only sectional qualifier to win the title was Don Pooley in 2002.
As for whether or not the defending champion has a shot at winning again, well, that’s one of the three things to look for in Round 1, which begins at 7:30 a.m. EDT.
The list of first-time U.S. Senior Open participants is impressive, starting with recent World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Retief Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champion. Other major winners making their debuts include Michael Campbell (2005 U.S. Open) Shaun Micheel, Paul Lawrie and Darren Clarke. Steve Stricker, the current USA Ryder Cup captain, is playing for the first time, at age 52 having foregone previous starts to play in the U.S. Open. Also competing are past PGA Tour winners Chris DiMarco and Ken Duke and a pair of 50-year-olds who were teammates at Ohio State – Chris Smith and Gary Nicklaus, the son of four-time U.S. Open champion Jack Nicklaus.
Putting for D’Oh
The primary defense of the golf course this week is no mystery. The small putting greens present a formidable challenge, and were a popular topic of conversation as players familiarized themselves with the venue during practice rounds. Tom Watson, the 1982 U.S. Open champion, said the greens are, “as tough a greens to putt as I've ever experienced.” That’s saying something. Bernhard Langer, who like Watson twice has won the Masters at Augusta National (home of those famously tricky putting surfaces) and the 2010 U.S. Senior Open champion, was equally wary, calling them, “very demanding greens, very undulating, very small and narrow, and every green seems to kick in from the side. So if you short-side yourself, you have very little to work with.” It will be worth watching not only who putts well this week, but who best handles the adversity that is likely to befall every competitor.”
Major (Repeat) Toms
David Toms has a chance this week to join an exclusive club, vying to become just the fourth man to win the U.S. Senior Open in consecutive years. The previous three to achieve this are Miller Barber, Gary Player and Allen Doyle, who was the last to successfully defend in 2006. Since then, the champion has usually started slowly the following year. Of the 10 men who have won the championship since Doyle’s double (Kenny Perry has won two titles, in 2013 and ’17), only two have broken 70 to start his title defense. Colin Montgomerie’s 68 in 2015 is the lowest first-round score by a defending champion. No surprise he came the closest to back-to-back wins, finishing runner-up to Jeff Maggert at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif. Toms has yet to win this year, which isn’t necessarily bad news, having gone winless last year until his victory at The Broadmoor.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer whose work appears regularly on USGA digital channels.